Sexually Violent Predator Act in Texas

The Sexually Violent Predator Act (“SVP Act”) was added as Chapter 841 of the Texas Health and Safety Code in 1999. TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE ANN. §§ 841.001-.151.

When enacting the SVP Act, the Texas legislature made specific findings that public safety and treatment are the primary statutory goals for the “small but extremely dangerous group of sexually violent predators ... [who] have a behavioral abnormality that is not amenable to traditional mental illness treatment modalities and that makes [them] likely to engage in repeated predatory acts of sexual violence.” Id. § 841.001 (West 2010).

Lawyers for SVP Act Commitment Trials in Fort Worth, TX

The attorneys at Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy represent clients accused of being a “sexually violent predator” and facing an order of civil commitment pursuant to Texas Health and Safety Code section 841.081. TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE ANN. § 841.081.

The attorneys at Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy are experienced in representing clients charged with a wide range of sexually motivated crimes. We fight hard to protect our clients after a false allegation of sexual abuse.

Call (817) 422-5350 to discuss your case today.


Purpose of the SVP Act in Texas

The Texas Supreme Court has determined that commitment under the Sexually Violent Predator Act is not punitive or criminal in nature. Instead, the SVP commitment proceeding is a civil matter to which the constitutional safeguards attendant to a criminal prosecution do not apply. In re Commitment of Fisher, 164 S.W.3d 637, 645-53 (Tex. 2005).

For instance, in In re Commitment of May, 500 S.W.3d 515, 518, 524 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2016, pet. filed), the court held that the 2015 amendments retroactively establishing a tiered inpatient treatment program are not so punitive as to render the statute criminal, instead of civil.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act provides that, except as otherwise stated, the rules of procedure and appeal for civil cases apply to a civil commitment proceeding. TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE ANN. § 841.146(b) (West Supp. 2016).


Requirements for Civil Commitment as a Sexually Violent Predator

Until the Sexually Violent Predator Act was amended in 2015, the district court had exclusive jurisdiction over all petitions filed under the SVP Act, with appeals heard by the Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court. Effective June 17, 2015, the State is required to file a commitment petition in the county where the defendant's most recent conviction occurred. See id. § 841.041(a).

Therefore, if your most recent conviction occurred in Tarrant County at the courthouse in Fort Worth, then your civil commitment trial will also be held in Tarrant County at the courthouse in Fort Worth, Texas.

To warrant civil commitment as a sexually violent predator, the State is required to prove two prongs beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • that person is a “repeat sexually violent offender;” and
  • the person suffers from a “behavioral abnormality that makes [him] likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.”

Id. §§ 841.003(a), 841.062(a).

The SVP statute requires the State to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the person is a sexually violent predator, as defined in the statute. The standard of legal sufficiency applies in civil commitment proceedings because the statute places the criminal burden of proof on the State.


Definitions under the Sexually Violent Predator Act

The statute defines a “repeat sexually violent offender” as a person who has been convicted of more than one sexually violent offense and has been sentenced for at least one of the offenses. Id. § 841.003(b).

As to the second element, the statute defines a “behavioral abnormality” as “a congenital or acquired condition that, by affecting a person's emotional or volitional capacity, predisposes the person to commit a sexually violent offense, to the extent that the person becomes a menace to the health and safety of another person.” Id. § 841.002(2).

The United States Supreme Court has held that due process requires “proof of serious difficulty in controlling behavior” before a person can be civilly committed as a sexually violent predator. For instance, in Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 413 (2002), the court found the difficulty, considering the nature of the psychiatric diagnosis and the severity of the mental abnormality itself, must be sufficient to distinguish the committed person from the “dangerous but typical [criminal] recidivist.”

Courts applying the Texas SVP Act have held that an independent and specific finding on lack-of-control is not required, and that a broad-form jury charge submission based on the statutory definition of a “behavioral abnormality” encompasses the lack-of-control determination required by Crane. See In re Commitment of Browning, 113 S.W.3d 851, 863 (Tex. App.—Austin 2003, pet. denied).

The court in In re Commitment of Mullens, 92 S.W.3d 881, 887 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2002, pet. denied) found that evidence relating to behavioral abnormality as defined in the Texas Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Act was legally sufficient to prove “serious difficulty in controlling behavior.”


Consequences of a Verdict that the Person is a "Sexually Violent Predator"

If the jury returns a unanimous verdict making an affirmative finding that the person is a “sexually violent predator,” as defined by the two prongs, the judge must commit the person for treatment and supervision to begin on the date of release from prison and to continue “until the person's behavioral abnormality has changed to the extent that the person is no longer likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.” TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE ANN. § 841.081(a).

In the commitment order, the judge must impose “requirements necessary to ensure the person's compliance with treatment and supervision and to protect the community.” These requirements include residing where instructed by the Texas Civil Commitment Office, no contact with the victims, participation in and compliance with the sex offender treatment program, submission to tracking, and not leaving the state without prior authorization. Id. § 841.082(a).

Texas Penal Code § 841.0831 establishing a tiered treatment program that transitions from “a total confinement facility to less restrictive housing and supervision and eventually to release from civil commitment, based on the person's behavior and progress.”


Right to Statutory Biennial Review and Petition for Release

A person who is civilly committed under the Texas Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Act receives a statutory biennial review of his status, and has the right to file either an authorized or unauthorized petition for release at any time. See id. §§ 841.101-.103, 841.121-.124 (West Supp. 2016).

The SVP Act does not require a medical or mental health diagnosis before civil commitment. The Texas Supreme Court stated in Bohannan that the Act does not require the expert conducting the SVP evaluation to be licensed as a medical doctor or psychologist as long as the expert is otherwise qualified to perform the evaluation. In re Commitment of Bohannan, 388 S.W.3d 296, 306 (Tex. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 2746 (2013).

The court noted the legislature's expression of its view that medical and psychiatric testimony is unnecessary in SVP proceedings. Id. at 303-04; see TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE ANN. § 841.1461 (added in response to a court of appeals opinion stating to the contrary).

In support of its holding, the court explained, “[a] medical diagnosis of a person's mental health may certainly inform an assessment of whether he has an SVP's behavioral abnormality, but the principal issue in a commitment proceeding is not a person's mental health but whether he is predisposed to sexually violent conduct.” Bohannan, 388 S.W.3d at 306.


Additional Resources

Civil Division of the Special ­Prosecution Unit in Texas - Visit the website of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association to read articles in their publication called the “The Prosecutor” which was published in the July-August 2010 edition (Volume 40, No. 4). The article is entitled “Civilly Committing Sexually Violent Predators.” The article discusses how Texas prosecutors help the Civil Division of the Special Prosecution Unit (SPU) in their quest to maintain intense supervision over alleged dangerous predators in the State of Texas.

Texas Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators - Visit the website of the Texas Department of State Health Services to learn more about the Council on Sex Offender Treatment which is a division of the Professional Licensing and Certification Unit that pursues civil commitment of sexually violent predators under Health & Safety Code Title 11 Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators, Chapter 841.


Attorneys for Sexually Violent Predator Civil Commitment

If you were accused of being a Sexually Violent Predator subject to civil commitment then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy. Our Fort Worth sex crime defense attorneys represent clients throughout the surrounding areas in Tarrant County, Texas.

Call (817) 422-5350 today to discuss your case.


This article was last updated on Monday, April 3, 2017.